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To What Should We Attribute Our Successes?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Some will attribute their successes to their own labor, ingenuity, and power. The Torah specifically warns against this attribution: “…and you will say to yourself, ‘My strength and the might of my hand that has accumulated this wealth for me.’ But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant which He swore to your forefathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

We may conclude that attributing our success to God will keep us on the straight and narrow. However, the Torah warns us: “Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land,’ and [that] because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord drives them out from before you. Not because of your righteousness or because of the honesty of your heart, do you come to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and in order to establish the matter that the Lord swore to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9, 4-5)

Success should never lead us to arrogantly proclaim our own strength and power, but to humbly recognize that God has gifted us with the strength and intelligence to make our success possible. Additionally, success should not lead us to conclude that we are more righteous than others or more deserving of success in God’s eyes. Attributing our success to what we perceive as our personal strength or spiritual superiority results in egoic states of consciousness.

The correct approach is to attribute both our efforts and their successful results to God’s benevolence. We, then, humbly thank God for our strength to act, and the subsequent undeserved success that He bestows upon us. This attitude to success fosters humility, gratitude, joy, and the desire to share our blessings with others. After Shabbat, we recite the following verse which encapsulates this beautiful idea: “May the pleasantness of our Lord, our God, be upon us, may He establish our handiwork for us, our handiwork may He establish.” (Psalms 90:17)